Fletcher Henderson was a jazz pianist and bandleader born in
1897. Cuthbert, Georgia
was the leader of one of the best African-American jazz bands of the Twenties. Henderson
Henderson was born to a middle-class family that valued education, and Henderson would go on to earn a degree in chemistry from Atlanta University. When he moved to New York in 1920, he was rejected by employers in the chemistry field due to his skin colour. He went to work for W.C. Handy’s music publishing company and then became a manager at the Black Swan recording label.
In 1922, Henderson led a band at a club which would become the legendary Roseland Ballroom. Henderson and his band, which would later become known as the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, would stay on at the Roseland for ten years. Henderson’s Orchestra featured some of the best musicians in jazz and included at various times, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Joe Smith, and many other star soloists. With stellar members such as Hawkins and Armstrong, the Henderson Orchestra made some of the finest sides of jazz in the Twenties including, “Sugar Foot Stomp,” “Shanghai Shuffle,” “Jim Town Blues,” “Christopher Columbus,” “Stealin’ Apples,” “King Porter Stomp,” and “Stampede.”
The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra continued to tour and record until 1939 when Henderson joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra as the pianist and arranger. The hiring of Henderson by Goodman was a watershed moment in jazz, as it was the first time that a white band had hired a black musician as arranger. Henderson’s participation would help secure Goodman’s reputation as the “King of Swing,” a music which Henderson had pioneered with his work with his own orchestra years before.
Henderson died in 1952, following several years with heart problems. The classic sides of the Henderson Orchestra can be fairly easily found on several compilations of the band’s work, and on compilations of classic early jazz, including the series, “The Chronological Classics: Fletcher Henderson.” (1996).